Ernie Smith expertly clipped a customer’s bangs on the afternoon of April 24, a month after coronavirus pandemic closure orders cut into his Dunwoody Village business.

Ernie Smith, owners of Ernie’s Barber Shop in Dunwoody Village, gives a trim to 32-year customer Jeff Raasch on April 24, the first day the business was allowed to reopen under Gov. Brian Kemp’s controversial order. (Phil Mosier)

“I am very thankful for our loyal clientele,” said Smith, the owner of Ernie’s Barber Shop, who has been cutting hair in Dunwoody for 42 years, 10 of them in the current 5064 Nandina Lane location. He and barber Ron Whitehead served a slate of 20 customers on the busy day, including 32-year client Jeff Raasch, who was getting that trim.

Smith uses the scissors. (Phil Mosier)

In accordance with new state safety rules and suggestions, Smith wore a face mask while working, and served only one customer at a time. The shop exceeded at least of the state suggestions; instead of spacing customers 6 feet apart in the waiting area, they took a number at the door and were allowed in only one at a time after getting a call. The shop skipped some other suggestions, including that customers also wear masks and that barbers wear gloves and face shields.

Smith works with the clippers. (Phil Mosier)

Smith was among the business owners choosing to take advantage of Gov. Brian Kemp’s order allowing the reopening of some types of businesses that had been shuttered due to their close-quarters nature. Kemp’s order is enormously controversial, drawing criticism from President Trump, Atlanta’s mayor and protesters, and drawing health and financial concerns from various local restaurant owners, bowling alley and movie theater operators, fitness center owners and even hair stylists.

Raasch’s first post-closure haircut wraps up. (Phil Mosier)

But for Smith, it was a chance to get back in business for the first time since a city of Dunwoody emergency order shut down all grooming spots on March 23, followed by a superseding closure order from Kemp April 3. And plenty of customers were eager to show up for a cut or trim.

Among was Raasch, who said he simply needed a haircut.

Raasch said he was used to the world he grew up in during the 1960s and ’70s, when workers stayed home when they were sick and others covered for them. He said the pandemic disruption has been a “bizarre experience” and that “you can’t always live your life in fear of what might happen or nothing will be accomplished.”

He said he felt safe with Smith’s measures and suggested the pandemic can be defeated with good manners.

“It’s [a] simple, common-sense approach to the situation!” said Raasch. “As I read once in a book written by Robert Fulghum, everything we need to know in life we first learned in kindergarten. Just be nice to each other! Respect one another! Play fair! Put things back where you found them! Wash your hands before you eat! Clean up your own mess! And most importantly, when we go out into the world, or even just cross the street, make sure we stick together and look out for each other!”

Smith sweeps up after the haircut. (Phil Mosier)

Another customer was Terry Nall, a former member of the City Council and recently an unsuccessful candidate for mayor. Nall said in a text message that he felt “very safe. Ernie and Ron went beyond the guidelines by allowing inside only the current customer in the chair. They have enough waiting area to social distance, too, but opted to be stricter about the distancing.”

Smith relaxes in his chair — as seen from the recommended social distance — at the end of his first day back in business after the pandemic closure. (Phil Mosier)

Nall said he wasn’t a fan of the shutdowns in the first place.

“I’m a ‘guardrails and guidelines’ leader instead of [a supporter of] outright closures,” said Nall. “The ‘guardrails and guidelines’ approach is much more rational, proportional and unemotional than responding with government closures. Business owners then have the choice of complying or closing and provid[ing] safe options for customers to achieve the same result of ‘flattening the curve.’ Government does a terrible job of picking winners and losers via closure orders.”

–Phil Mosier contributed

Update: This story has been updated with comments from Jeff Raasch and corrects how long he has been a customer of the barber shop.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.